Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Me and Dave

When I was a sixth grader at Whitney Elementary School I lived in Boise Idaho. I was able to walk home from my school and had a habit of hanging out in the groomed fields behind the playground after the bell rang.

I would play "horse" with a few friends and sometimes just play by myself, climbing the trees or galloping across the grass. Our football fields made perfect pastures to race my imaginary horses on.

One day I was sitting high in a tree when I saw a young boy riding a horse across the grass. I couldn't believe it, the beautiful paint was the real thing, not a horse out of my imagination and the kid was my age.

I scrambled down from the tree and stood in the field watching. I was entranced. The boy rode bareback. He sat his horse easily and loped (in my mind galloped) in big looping circles across the grass.

I kept edging farther into the middle of the field. I was so overwhelmed by the show I couldn't even be jealous.

Pretty soon he was circling his horse around my admiring, slack jawed self. The boy sat straight with his chest puffed out and would order the horse to go faster or slower in a loud voice. Every now and then he would peek at me out of the corner of his eye. The boy finally stopped and walked his horse over.

"Do you want to pet him?" He asked me.

I shyly stepped up to the horse's shoulder and stroked his silky coat. The bay and white hair was short and slick and warm under my hand. A fine line of black hair separated each white spot from the bay.

"Climb up here, I'll give you a ride," the boy said.

My knees almost gave out.

We walked back to my favorite climbing tree and I scrambled up high enough to get on the horse.

The boy stepped his horse out and took me for a ride around the fields. He trotted a little, but it soon became clear I couldn't keep my balance and would soon pull us both to the ground so we dropped back to a walk.

I don't remember the boy's name but his horse was named Pepper.

I ran home after my magical ride and flew past our dog, Linus, skipping our ritual wrestling match, and went straight into the house to find my mother.

"Guess what I did! It was incredible!" I started and told her my whole amazing story.

She waited patiently while I went through every detail.

When I finally wound down she leaned against the kitchen counter and asked me, "Do you remember what day it is?"

I racked my brain, but the day of the week kept slipping past me.

"No." I said.

My mother had the look on her face she always had when she was about to drop a bomb on me.
She looked like she had just hit her funny bone, but was in church, so she couldn't yell or jump around.

"It's Tuesday," she told me.

I stood there staring at her. I still didn't get it.

"Your flute lesson," she prodded.

My stomach sank.

I looked at the clock. It was 5:30. My lesson was at 4:00.

My family did not have a lot of extra money. I was the first child out of a bunch of kids allowed to play a musical instrument and the lessons were a huge bonus.

If I missed a lesson the money for it was lost. I loved playing my flute. I was heartbroken at the thought of blowing it.

"Go to your lesson. Apologise for forgetting and tell him you'll be back next week," my mom said and turned back to the sink.

I grabbed my flute and flew out the door. I threw my flute in the basket on my bike and my leg over the seat. I pedaled as fast as I could and headed to the little music store. My green Huffy turned into Pepper as we tore down the streets. I slammed into every pothole I could find and rode on the gravel berm with my feet off of the pedals, I was going to be able to ride by myself the next time I saw that kid.

My flute teacher was a gruff old man with a short white beard and little wire-rimmed glasses.

He stood in silence and listened to my wandering excuse. I was embarrassed and nervous but couldn't help but tell every detail of my ride.

"So you like horses huh?" He asked me. "Enough to forget your flute lesson?"

"Yes," I answered. I could feel my face turn red.

"Come inside," he told me.

I followed him into the music room. The curtains were pulled and the piano cover was down. The air smelled musty.

He searched through a filing cabinet for a minute and pulled out a piece of sheet music.

"This is a harder piece of music than you're used to. I want you to figure this out at home. When you come back next week I'll show you how to play it right."

I rode back home trying to decipher the sheet music and steer at the same time. The notes were jumpy and the rhythm was funny. It was called Take Five.

I got home and started to try to play the music. It was hard, but I kept at it, I liked some of the sound I was getting.

The next week I was at my lesson a little early. I sat in a chair waiting and blew the rhythms from my new song in the head-joint of my flute.

"You have the mechanics of this piece but this music isn't about mechanics. This music tells a story. You have to play it like you're describing a picture to someone," he told me.

I was captivated. I already had grown up with music that told me stories. My mother played records for us that caught our imagination. My brother and I would act out games to Holst's The Planets and I could gallop around the house on a rainy day listening to Aaron Copeland until my mother was berserk.

"Let me show you," he said and started playing a beautiful pounding beat on the piano for me to play my flute to. When I started in with my part I could see colors.

My world changed that day. I was introduced to jazz by an elderly music teacher in Boise Idaho. I never became a connoisseur of jazz, but I became a fan and a better musician. I learned a man named Dave Brubeck had written the piece I was learning to play and became a fan of his as well.

I watched the Kennedy Center Honors last night. Dave Brubeck was one of the inductees. I sat and watched as his life and music were described. Then came the pounding rhythms which start the flow of perhaps his most well known hit, Take Five.

The announcer began to tell a story. Dave Brubeck is a ranchers son. His father taught him to ride and rope, his mother taught him the piano.

Brubeck says the song came into his head while he was still on the ranch. He was loping a horse across the fields. The steady rhythm of the horse's gait was in his head when he began to hear a counter rhythm. The song Take Five soon fell into place.

Forty years ago Take Five became a very specific milestone in my life. It turned me into a musician. I have pounded out the beat on my table as I draw and danced around my house to this wonderful song.

I found out just last night that I have been riding horses with this song my entire life. Wow man.

Here's a link to groove with Dave.

If that doesn't work go to You Tube and look up Dave Brubeck Take Five


  1. Incredible. Do you happen to have a link to that song? I'd love to hear it!

  2. I'm gonna go look for this in iTunes right now!!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I added a link on the end of the post, great idea -thanks lopinon4!

  5. Wow that is incredible. I bet that hit ya when you found out.

  6. Cool post, Mugs. I stumbled into jazz myself - my freshman year of high school I wound up about a half hour early the first week of classes, and where else to go but the band room? I ended up listening to the jazz bands, who rehearsed before regular classes started. The director invited me to join as there was an open trumpet spot in one band, and there I was.

    Played all four years and really enjoyed it. So much more relaxed than wind ensemble, but not careless - you had to really listen to the other people. I always liked how good jazz was more of a conversation than anything.

  7. Know what is funny now that I actually listened to this song, I randomly get it stuck in my head but I never knew who it was by until now. Weird.

  8. dam, no speakers at work.. Will check it out the min I get home. I wonder.... It seems that a lot of people who are "into" horses also have artistic talent of some kind. I draw, and do poems...(used to play piano). I wonder if horses and artistic talent are linked somehow?

  9. I should have wrote WRITE poems, not DO poems... lol

  10. Awesome story!

    And my favorite line:
    "I don't remember the boy's name, but the horse was named Pepper."

    Truly you are horsaii as well as jazzaii.

  11. That's so great! I remember the first time I heard Dave Brubeck and Take Five, it may have been one of the first albums I ever bought, I loved it so.

    Wonderful story, and great tie-in. We have the Kennedy Center Awards on tape to watch tonight, I'm looking forward to it even more, now.

  12. Mugwump, I love your posts. Hope you don't mind if I add another piece of music. This is one of my favorite songs, Cuban music from the 1950's. One of the lines in the song is "A caballo vamos pa'l monte"--meaning, we are going to the mountain by horseback. You can feel the beat of horses' steps in the music.

  13. Cool post! I've heard of Dave Brubeck before, and I have heard the music called "Take Five" many times. How wonderful to know how it ties in with horses and with you. I'll never hear it again without thinking of both.

  14. Take Five is a great tune! We played it in our jazz band in high school. It's one of the few jazz tunes that I like, too many are too free form for me. I like a melody repeated in there somewhere. We also played Big Band music and I am still a fan. I think it's important to somehow keep music and art in schools so lots of kids can learn to enjoy things they might never have access to. I didn't think of Take Five as a riding song though!

  15. Did your music teacher ever explain the connection between this piece and your love of horses? Or did he just let the music speak to you without any explanation?

    Pretty cool either way, but how cool if he appealed to your horsaii senses to get you further hooked on music.

  16. Mugwump, I loved this story!!! I spent all my time growing up playing music, but dreaming nonstop of horses. I eventually went and got a degree in piano. While I was at university, I finally came to my senses, stopped wasting time not doing the things I loved, and started riding like I had always wanted. Now I'm the proud owner of my first horse, at 25 years old.

  17. That is a great piece of music. A couple of local dressage riders do a choreographed ride to it and it is beautiful. Thanks for sharing its roots with us.

    My cousin plays jazz piano. When he was younger he played for Lena Horn. Now he has his own inn and resturant in Germany and he plays there and does concerts around Germany and Denmark. I love to watch him play. He is a different person behind the piano. He seems very content and comfortable, very much in control and his movements are so fluid and effortless. Do you think that is how other people see those of us who are passionate about horses?

  18. Mugs... you just put a big smile on my face. Thank you. And HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  19. cruisinlight- what a great piece of music!
    We should start a playlist of horsaii music.
    I could put it up on the side somewhere.....
    badges- I'm sure horses and the arts are linked, always have been.
    stilllearning- He never told me a thing...but I know now he knew.Who knows what was going on in his head, probably no more than, "Hmmmm, I know I have some horsey music around here somewhere..."
    anon and kel- I think there is an extremely close relationship between music and horses. It has something to do with the movement and rhythm. Anon needed horses more than music, but I bet Kel's cousin gets the same satisfaction on trhe piano as we do on the horses.

  20. The older gentleman that I used to ride with always used to ask... Do you love to dance? He loved to dance and was one of the best dancers and riders I have ever had the privilege to ride with. He felt that riding horses and dancing were much the same. That goes along with music, riding and rhythm.

    My daughter was about 15 and we were at a family get together. She says "David, play something from Gershwin". He immediately, without hesitation starts playing a beautiful piece of music. I wouldn't have known if it was or wasn't Gershwin. But she immediately named the piece and was very delighted with herself and with him. He played without sheet music, without as much as a thought about it.

    I asked him how it is that he just knows what keys, what tempo, how does it come to him. His answer was - how do you just know how to ride.

  21. I used to take my Percheron mares out for a drive. We had a long lane and they walked out to the end and onto the road and then hit a road trot. Just swinging along and a song popped into my head--Let's go to Vegas--I do not know who sings it or even why but I always remember those drives when I hear that song. Funny.

  22. Love Take Five, too. I like to listen to jazz, but I think that would stick, too. If for nothing else, the lesson learned.

  23. What an amazing post! Wonderful...

  24. Oh, that is a good one, Mugs! Did no know about the background, though.
    Thanks for another wonderful story!

  25. Thanks for this post! I've been starting to collect music to ride to after I listened to, of all things, "Sleigh Ride." The beat just spoke to me and I am convinced I want to add music into my riding. Please do post songs or a list of music!

  26. Loved this story and the music...Take Five & El Carretero. One of the things I liked best about drill team was the can just take you away!

    Dancing is my second passion...the rhythm and beat...the syncopation.

    I equate riding with dancing...rider leading the horse in the dance.

    I like the PlayList idea too!

  27. Here's a website database of music. You can search beats per minute, or by walk, trot, canter.